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There are practically no exceptions to this quite elemental rale,
but as our case is so strong, let us be generous enough to admit
them. Assuming that oratory is an art. let us grant that great
occasions may sometimes provoke eloquence which is worthy of
permanent record. Lincoln's Gettysburg speech is the classic
example.. .though even in this case he made rough notes on an
envelope before delivering it. Again, legend has it that some of
Chopin's music was improvised at a first sitting, in the exquisite
shapes in which it was eventually crystallized for posterity. But
after all, it was crystallized. If Chopin had sat down at the piano
and run over the keys for the benefit of George Sand; and if when
he had finished, that formidable lady had said 'Delicious—you
really must play that again some time'; and if, after this compli-
ment, he had left the piano, and there had been silence, broken
only by the sound of soft embraces.. .the music would have been
lost, it would have melted away like the snow on the roofs of Paris.
Perhaps Chopin did improvise, most composers do ; but when his
fingers strayed into some enchanting pattern of melody there was,
thank heavens, an end of George Sand, an end of love, and end of
everything—everything except sheets of manuscript, and bundles
of sharpened pencils, an,d—most important of all—a vrell-worn
piece of india-rubber.
This fundamental principle applies to all art. You cannot "im-
provise3 a statue; you cannot 'improvise' a fresco; you cannot
even * improvise * the lightest fragment of lyric poetry. Study the
manuscript of Milton's L* Allegro.. .so exquisitely named, for the
title is like moonlit thistledown, and the whole work is spun of
moonbeams. What does that manuscript tell us ? That Milton
flung himself into a chair at midnight, flicked a silvered quill, and
transcribed his magic into an easy flowing hand ? On the con-
trary. Very much on, the contrary. The manuscript tells us that
he got up early in the morning, and scraped and scratched, and
chopped and changed, and frowned and faltered. The manuscript
is like a battleground, strewn with slaughtered adjectives and
strangled verbs. Only through a thunder-smoke of erasions and a
barrage of blots did he eventually win through to victory. The
victory was complete ; the poem was perfect. But'only God—an,d